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RAE 2008

art and design history and conservation

The Art and Design History and Conservation Research Group promotes a research culture within and beyond the Conservation and Restoration Subject Area of the Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design.

The Art and Design History and Conservation Research Group is a young research area within the Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design. Its staff, by and large, are recent recipients of doctorates, new appointees and/or new researchers. The research group was formed in 2003 following a core number of conservators, architectural and design historians that were displaced from the activities of other research groups in the Department.

The concerns of this group are to engage with the cultural heritage and history of art, architecture and design, in the broadest and deepest sense of these disciplines: that is to study art, architecture and design as both process, material and object; as produced, consumed and conserved. In terms of disciplinary methodologies, research here is committed to a rigorous historical materialism where the artefact/object studied is understood as complex: from empirical material analysis and object-based conservation; to art, architecture and design history concerned with artefact and place as co-constitutive. Researchers also actively seek to refresh and enliven their empirical work through a creative engagement with theoretical considerations.

Unusually, the group's research combines and integrates directly the major scientific disciplinary such as chemistry, crystallography and mineralogy into art and design and in this sense their research is truly inter-disciplinary. The group's work is also concerned with preservation; that is of artifact, interior and building, but also of the image and electronic sustainability.

Experts from institutions prominent in the field contribute regularly to the departmental research ethos, in particular: Wallace Collection, Tate Gallery and Guildhall Museum, the British Museum, Ipswich City Museum Service, The British Library and established commercial practices, such as Richard Wolbers. There are several formats: annual speakers during the academic year, and summer school tutors PLUS keynote speakers at international conferences.

Research Group Activities

The research culture in this Group has evolved through the convening of specialised conferences. The academic themes of the conferences reflect directly the current research interest of group members who have acted as primary academic convenors of the events listed below, notably the international Design History Conference, which received British Academy funding and was held in the Department in September 2006.

1.Simposio Internacional: Arquitectura Fortificada: Conservación, restauración y uso de los Castillos, Segovia (Spain): convened Edward Cooper, for Fundación del Patrimonio Histórico de Castilla y León, 24 - 26 November 2004.

2.Colonial Comfort: trading in Furniture with the West Indies (The Furniture History Society Annual Symposium), convened by John Cross at the Victoria and Albert Museum 26 February 2005.

3.Locating Design (Design History Annual Conference), convened by Dipti Bhagat at London Metropolitan University 7 - 9 September 2005.

4.The David Harris Conservation conference, London Metropolitan University, convened by Ed Gregory, for the University 2001-2007.

5.The John Anderson Gilded Surfaces Conference, London Metropolitan University, convened by Clifford Deighton, November 2007.

The research group outcomes, which have achieved a wide readership by being published in more than one language and in several countries, are held in national and major research libraries. The group members also review regularly publications in their subject area.

The research group members act in a consultant capacity from the conservation and analysis of cultural artifacts in national museums, such as the Tate and the National Gallery, advisor to the regional government of Rioja for the restoration programme of medieval monuments, to the consultant for the Jamaican furniture exhibition to commemorate the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slavery trade. Therefore consultancy in the group is international and covers buildings, artefacts, environment and conservation policy from the medieval ages to the recent past.

Collections and Major Projects

Parker Collections
The Research Group oversees several collections. The Frederick Parker Collection of historic chairs, carvings and its archive, which formerly belonged to the Frederick Parker and later Parker Knoll furniture manufacturing company, was placed on long term loan to the Department in 2002. Currently, research is in progress to produce catalogues of the chairs and carvings. The archives, whilst not available to the public, can be viewed by appointment for research purposes. Institutions such as the Furniture History Society, Sotheby’s Institute, the upholstery Department of Basingstoke College and the British Antique Furniture Restoration Association have all utilised the archive holdings. Research funding is currently being sought to work with the Buckingham and Chiltern University College furniture archive project.

The catalogue of the chair and carving collections will be deposited with the Art Humanities Database Service (AHDS).

The management of the collections was initially concerned with the location, transport, display and monitoring of environmental conditions. The research group now seeks to obtain Museum Accreditation for the Parker Collection. Such accreditation will raise the profile and status of the Collection and illustrate best practice in the management of the objects in the research group and Department's care. Museum accreditation is being steered and orchestrated by the Head of Conservation, Ed Gregory, and Georgina Brown.

Hedley Miller Xylarium
The research Group also acquired in 2004 the custody of the late Sir Hedley Miller xylarium (timber library), which greatly expanded the current xylarium in the Department and the ability of the conservation subject area to carry out post-graduate research in the field of material analysis. The research potential of the collection is now being undertaken.

Eastender Archive Project
The Eastender Archive Project is a collaborative work in progress at present, bringing together Dr Dipti Bhagat, Dr Jenny Harding, Susan Andrews and Mick Williamson with photographer Paul Trevor as editors of his collection of 120,000 images of the Brick Lane area in East London over three decades.

The project aims to produce a digital archive of 550 images representing the lives of local East End communities in their distinctive social, economic and political contexts, during a period of rapid social and physical change (1970's to 1990's). The archive will be complemented with oral testimony and images and stories made accessible to local communities, students and academics. The project team is necessarily engaged with a number of interesting questions: What are the aesthetic, historical, and social dimensions of creating a photographic archive and how might these be related? Which factors contribute to the construction of a photographic archive as a relevant resource for public history and/or academic inquiry? How can aesthetic and social/political discourses work together to achieve this end?

The archive of images will be deposited with the AHDS and develop a series of exhibitions and local events.

Post Graduate and Research Students

Training for prospective research students is provided by the MA in Conservation of Decorative Surfaces and MA by Project in Conservation. An MA in Musical Instrumental Conservation and an MA by Project in Design and Visual Culture Studies are at the planning stage. Students who show research promise at the undergraduate level are encouraged by prizes awarded from the David Harris Fund, by the Derek Austin Prize and a scholarship commemorating John Anderson, late head of frames conservation at the Tate Gallery, awarded in collaboration with the latter. The recent development of a Masters programme in this subject area has allowed staff to engage in Research Students Supervisor Training Courses and develop the Department research seminar programmes that will run in tandem with the subject specific research seminars.

Involvement with the Royal Armouries is underlined by a funded Ph.D registration for research on The Technical Evolution of Artillery from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, now nearing completion.

Links to other institutions

The Conservation subject area engages in an ongoing schedule of live projects, involving national monuments or major collections with (to date), World Monuments Fund, English Heritage, the National Trust, the Museum of the Royal Regiment of Artillery (Woolwich), and the Royal Armouries. Contact is maintained through individual members of the group with The British Museum, The Wallace Collection, Guildhall Art Gallery, The Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, National Museum of Wales, Edinburgh City Museums Service, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Rhode Island Mansions, English Heritage, the Department of Crystallography & Mineralogy of Madrid University, National Museum in Prague, National Museum in Budapest and the Thrace Institute of Art & Culture, Greece.

In addition, individual members of the Research Group are, or have been, officers or honorary members of research institutions: Design History Society Executive Committee, Furniture History Society, The Georgian Society of Jamaica, British Antique Furniture Restorers Association, Institute for Conservation, Care of Collections Forum, United Kingdom Institute for Conservation, the Asociación de Arqueología Medieval, Queen Mary, London University and the Real Academia de Alfonso X el sabio (Murcia, Spain).

Awards and Prizes

Dipti Bhagat secured a number a sponsorship/grant awards in support of Locating Design, the 2005 Annual Design History Society Conference:

  • British Academy Conference Grant: June 2005.

  • Oxford University Press: sponsorship of Conference Reception.

  • HEA-ADM Sponsorship: Paul Carter keynote address fee, Post-graduate speaker’s costs.

John Cross has been awarded the Barra Foundation research fellowship at the Philadelphia Library/Historical Society (Pennsylvania, USA), tenable from June 2006. Further support was received from the Furniture History Society, Tom Ingram fund for research in Jamaica.

Tracy Chaplin received the L’Oreal Prize Art and Science of Colour Prize - Bronze Award, 2004.


London Metropolitan University